Saturday, June 30, 2007

Friends and Birthdays

Goodness, I'm delinquent. All I got today is a newsy blog.

Tonight is my daughter's birthday party. Her birthday was last Saturday but we're celebrating with a sleepover/bowling party tonight. All the girls are here (six total, nine to ten year olds) and they're sitting in the living room, "talking." I'm eavesdropping, of course, and feeling happy and kind of melancholy at the same time. She's growing up, which is a good thing, and I love the fact that she can have girls over and just sit and chat. But they're still so innocent and good. I know in a matter of years they'll be teenagers, and all that will change. I don't want them to get angry and confused! Why can't they stay sweet?

One girl is recounting a story about her "step-aunt" who walked her to the door just now. Said aunt has blue hair and a snooty attitude. The girl is telling about how her mom is taking the aunt, who is 15, to a concert tonight for kids aged 18 and older, but that the mom is going to accompany her so she can go. All I heard was "She is in this goth club, and can only wear black and white, so my mom is going with her." It makes me wonder what they're all exposed to at their own homes. Hearing bits and pieces of their stories makes me see how comparatively normal our freaky family situation really is.

Birthday party, part II: We just got back from bowling. I was worried about taking them all out bowling, cause it seemed like it was going to be unmanageable and crazy, but it was really fun. One of Rosie's neighborhood friends, who didn't know any of the other girls at the party cause she goes to a different school, was sad because she had never bowled before and wasn't doing well. She looked like she was about to cry. A bunch of the other girls came up to me saying "{Name of girl} is so sad! What can we do to make her feel better?" It was touching, cause I somehow expect them to not care.

Anyhoo, bowling was successfully bowled, cheeseburgers and fries were consumed, and presents were opened. Now we're settling into sleeping bags in the living room to watch a movie. After 30 minutes of negotiations, no movie has been agreed upon yet. How is it that in everything in life, the smallest things cause the biggest snags?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Music, Identity and Ralph Ellison

I am reading Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man at the moment. This is a book that I can't even really say anything about, except "Go read it." It is powerful, painful, poetic, a book written about an America that has long-since disappeared, from a point of view that doesn't exist anymore. It is surprisingly beautiful, much more than I expected it to be. Having read a lot of black Caribbean writers - Maryse Conde, Franz Fanon, Patrick Chamoiseau - I am struck by Ellison's superiority to them in many ways, as he is somehow able to capture the essence of belonging-yet-not-belonging by presenting an experience both concrete and symbolic, real and metaphorical. Or maybe his writing is clearer to me simply because while he describes the same experience as the African and Caribbean writers, the story is located in a country I know well. Set in America, this narrative is able to convey something personal to me that the others cannot. Like I said, I'm not ready to write about it yet; at this point I am stupid to do anything but say "Read the book." .

Ellison was a musician before he was a writer, and consequently the book is rich with passages centered on music. They slip in at odd moments, supporting the narrative almost like little decorative (but functional) columns. Nearly all the scenes in the book rely on musical references as a way of reaching the reader and conveying an experience that would be otherwise untransmittable. My favorite so far is a description of a kind of 'trip' the narrator has as he's listening to a recording of Louis Armstrong playing "What Did I Do to Be so Black and Blue?" The speaker has smoked some questionable weed given to him by someone in the street, and while listening to the music he experiences something which he describes as a descent into the music.

So under the spell of the reefer I discovered a new analytical way of listening to music. The unheard sounds came through, and each melodic line existed of itself, stood out clearly from all the rest, said its piece, and waited patiently for the other voices to speak. That night I found myself hearing not only in time, but in space as well. I not only entered the music but descended, like Dante, into its depths.

I wrote a paper not long ago about the link between Caribbean storytellers and jazz musicians. I had no idea this passage existed then. It makes me want to revisit that paper and do something with it, to branch out from French literature, as these experiences are all connected. Ellison makes of the lived experience a poetic realm where the visual, the aural and the emotional merge to create what we call reality.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Happy Day After Father's Day

This has been a very painful weekend for me. I lost my boyfriend. No, he didn't die, just wrote me out of his life, which is worse in many ways. I can't come to grips with it somehow, and even though we've split many, many times - so many that it's a constant source of amusement for several well-meaning friends - this time I know it's forever. So bear with me, as I am very melancholy at the moment.

I also have been grappling with the first Father's Day without my dad. He died last October 12, and I have survived my first Christmas without him, my first birthday without him, his first birthday without him, etc. without totally losing my shit. But Father's Day has been different. I've somewhat lost my shit. Maybe it's the combined loss of Paul and the emptiness already in my heart from losing Dad, maybe it's just hearing and feeling the word 'father' all week, but something very heavy has crawled inside my heart and seems rather reluctant to leave.

I just posted a comment on another blog about my dad's love of country music. While it made me feel good about how much he gave me during his life, it also made me start to cry again. I just want to share a little of it here, for Dad.

My dad was from East Tennessee (always ‘east’, never just ‘Tennessee’) and loved country music. Now, when I say country music, I don’t mean this bullshit Hollywood crap they pass off as country now. I mean country and western old style - Loretta Lynn, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Flatt and Scruggs, Tammy Wynette. He had a wild streak, too, that mellowed once he married my mom and had us kids. But he was always a mischevious East Tennesseean at heart. I love country music, especially a good fiddle tune, thanks to him.

My parents were an odd match - mom very prim and proper and classically trained in piano, Dad a juvenile delinquent (in a good way, of course) from one of the best families of Knoxville, a family that since has been traced back to William the Conqueror, if you believe my aunts' geneaology searches. But they had an incredible relationship, the strength of which I only realized after Dad's death. They were soulmates, and having been together since they were 15, they knew each other better than anyone else. My mom is lost without him, something which surprises me as she always seemed so independent and cheerful, regardless of what happened around her. I am finding that I am somewhat lost without him, too, especially as I face divorce knowing that there is no one waiting for me on the other side.

I guess your father is your first love, and all others are based on him. I miss him terribly, and now realize that I will never have anyone love me as unconditionally and as deeply as he did. I have tried to find that love in many men since I left home to go to college and then on into the world as an adult. I see now that it can't be done. No one can take his place.

I apologize for the pity party. It has been a very black day.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Chicken and Waffles tagged me and seven other blogger friends to participate in the following game called Eight Things About Me. The fun part about this is that in turn, I get to pay it forward and tag eight of my friends to do the same about themselves. Please check at the end of this post for your name because in all likelihood I've probably tagged you. If I did it's just cause I love you so damn much.

Here are my eight facts:

1. My first (and only, as a matter of fact) dog was named Ralph. I used to put rocks in his bowl and laugh my ass off as he came running, thinking it was dog food.

2. I don't know how to dive.

3. I hate being in graduate school, but I can't seem to get out.

4. I was once invited backstage at an Iggy Pop concert by the Ig Man himself. He stood up, gave me his chair, and went to fetch me a beer...a real gentleman.

5. Rather than the traditional hovercraft, on my first trip to England I took a boat across the English Channel from France. After three hours and much fighting back of sea-sickness, my first vision of England was the white cliffs of Dover across a misty sea.

6. I don't really even like Taylor Hicks.

7. I am fascinated by crime in general, murder specifically, and wish I had been a homicide detective instead of a French professor.

8. I like porn - not soft porn, the real deal.

TAG! You're it! Tell us about yourselves:

Scott, Sandy, Heather, Gray, Cherie, Ingrid, Leslie.

The Rules:

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about him/herself.

2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Warning: This is much harder than it looks. At least it was for me.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dreams and Reality

I had a very odd dream last night. Sometimes upon awakening, I have this weird feeling that tells me a dream is one of those that is going to come true. Now these dreams don't come to pass in a literal way, but they somehow end up pointing to something tangible that happens in the waking world. This felt like one of those. What's odd is that the dreams are usually about really insignificant things. For example, I once dreamed about an old house on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta that I used to drive by every day on my way to work. In my dream, as I passed where the house should be, I saw that it wasn't there any more. It appeared to have just been torn down and all that was left was a bunch of bricks and dust. A few days later I drove by the actual house, which really did exist - old and in ruins and on Ponce de Leon Avenue. Parked in front of the overgrown lot was a bulldozer, and within days the house was gone.

So my dream last night went like this: I had been invited to a Soul Patrol convention, only it was more like a Gray Charles convention. I had decided not to go. As I was driving down Highway 411 to Rome, apparently going to my parents' house, I passed a new, very badly-designed Holiday Inn. It was on the right side of the highway in a spot where I remembered an old farm used to be. It was a hideous circular building, made mostly of glass, a cheap attempt at being modern. There was a big sign out front that read: "Welcome Gray Charles!" or something, then at the bottom, a private message from GC: "Julie or Jena, there is one room left. You get a free upgrade to a suite if you take it." I kept driving. When I arrived at a mythical small-town Rome (nothing like the real one,) I said to myself: "Wait a minute! You're not going to pass up a free suite upgrade!!!" and I turned around and headed back to the ugly glass hotel.

Upon arriving at the Holiday Inn, I went in to register and was greeted by a mean fat lady (sorry, in dreams it's not always pc) at the check-in desk. I remember being very annoyed by the weird placement of the desk, as it was up against the plate glass window and there was nowhere for her to stand and nowhere for me to sit my stuff down. She booked me into a room and I signed for it, not noticing until after I signed the $600 she ended up charging me for two nights in the suite. When I protested, she was very mean and said "That's the price you agreed to."

I went out of the lobby and looked into a big convention room where the Gray Charles thing was going on. It looked horribly dull, like a very bad high-school reunion. I kept walking and came to another room that seemed to be a snack area or reading room. There were some Trekkie-looking people there, and a very short midget-like man (ibid) in glasses. I kept walking, then realized that short man was none other than Gray Charles himself. I came back and peeked in the door and sure enough, it was him. Not wanting to give away his secret identity to the other people in the lobby, I just nodded, and he nodded back. Then I went to find my room, regretting coming and spending the $600 since the group looked very sad and not fun at all.

As I wandered through the labyrinth of hallways looking for my suite I stopped and went into a public restroom. When I tried to leave, the door wouldn't unlock. I forced back the panic (there were no windows and the claustrophobia was tangible) and tried to be calm and reasonable. I banged on the door but no one was around to hear me. I finally realized I had my cell phone with me, and that there was someone at the hotel who I knew I could call on for help. So I called Gray, who minutes later appeared and somehow unlocked the door. It was quite a knight in shining armor moment. He and I stood and talked in the hallway, and since we were away from the awful Taylor fans we were free to let loose and be ourselves. After that I don't remember much of the dream, and though I know there was some excitement and secretive yumminess to the conversation, the rest is a blur.

Besides the obvious 'being saved,' what does it all mean???? And which part might come true?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Franny and Zooey

I’m reading Franny and Zooey for the umpteenth time this week. As you probably know, the story is (among other things) a roundabout examination of the meaning of life, the role of knowledge, our place in the cosmos, etc. But one important aspect of the book which has struck me this time around is the idea of spirituality and knowledge being tied to a kind of non-knowledge, or emptiness or something. In the ‘Franny’ section, just before she faints, Franny is telling boyfriend Lane Coutell about the book she’s carrying around in her purse. She says that in the book, called The Way of a Pilgrim, the main character is on a quest for self-knowledge. He learns that by repeating a prayer incessantly, something happens to him, and the prayer becomes a part of his physical being, and he attains a kind of harmonic one-ness with the universe. It doesn’t matter what the prayer is, she says. It can be “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” (the prayer of the Pilgrim,) or it can be “Namu Amida Butsu” (used by Buddhists) or “Om” (as she says, the prayer used in India).

"But the thing is, the marvellous thing is, when you first start doing it, you don’t even have to have faith in what you’re doing. I mean even if you’re terribly embarrassed about the whole thing, it’s perfectly all right. I mean you’re not insulting anybody or anything. In other words, nobody asks you to believe a single thing when you first start out. You don’t even have to think about what you’re saying, the starets said. All you have to have in the beginning is quantity. Then, later on, it becomes quality by itself. On its own power or something. He says that any name of God - any name at all - has this peculiar, self-active power of its own, and it starts working after you’ve sort of started it up.”

Later, in the Zooey section, the same thread is picked up again by a bathtub-ridden Zooey, who is reading an old letter from their brother, Buddy:

"Much, much more important, though, Seymour had already begun to believe (and I agreed with him, as far as I was able to see the point) that education by any name would smell as sweet, and maybe much sweeter, if it didn't begin with a quest for knowledge at all but with a quest, as Zen would put it, for no-knowledge. Dr. Suzuki says somewhere that to be in a state of pure consciousness--satori--is to be with God before he said, Let there be light. Seymour and I thought it might be a good thing to hold back this light from you and Franny (at least as far as we were able), and all the many lower, more fashionable lighting effects--the arts, sciences, classics, languages--till you were both able at least to conceive of a state of being where the mind knows the source of all light."

Presence and absence, knowledge and non-knowledge, physical and spiritual, individual and collective...was Salinger on to something, or was this nothing more than a diversion for him? I've never studied the writer at all and for the first time decided to look elsewhere for some kind of direction as to how he should be read. The first critical essay I find is by John Updike, written (as near as I can tell) in 1997:

"Few writers since Joyce would risk such a wealth of words upon events that are purely internal and deeds that are purely talk. We live in a world, however, where the decisive deed may invite the holocaust, and Salinger's conviction that our inner lives greatly matter peculiarly qualifies him to sing of an America where, for most of us, there seems little to do but to feel. Introversion, perhaps, has been forced upon history; an age of nuance, of ambiguous gestures and psychological jockeying on a national and private scale, is upon us, and Salinger's intense attention to gesture and intonation help make him, among his contemporaries, a uniquely relevant literary artist. As Hemingway sought the words for things in motion, Salinger seeks the words for things transmuted into human subjectivity. "

Interesting, but Updike continues in a different direction, describing Salinger's self-indulgence in continuing to write about the Glass family, a group he clearly loves and is proud of having given life to. "This seems to me the nub of the trouble: Salinger loves the Glasses more than God loves them. He loves them too exclusively. Their invention has become a hermitage for him. He loves them to the detriment of artistic moderation. "Zooey" is just too long; there are too many cigarettes, too many goddams, too much verbal ado about not quite enough." Yes, I have to agree. I DO see that, but I allow myself to overlook it in a kind of willing suspension of critical thought.

I want to know more about that introversion, that search for a way to reflect a shared inner life. I don't care if Salinger is self-obsessed, stroking and praising his creation for all the world to see. In the end it doesn't matter. This book never fails to make me weep, now more than ever. The interaction of the members of the family, the lost-ness of Franny, the death of Seymour (far in the past here, but still tangible)... It's sad in a way that I can't quite describe.

I also hate how I feel each time I realize the characters are nothing more than characters. I want them to be real.